Wigan 2 Swansea City 3 match report: Wigan peer into the depths of relegation after blowing the lead twice
Victory would have lifted the Latics out of the relegation zone
It would have been more bearable if Wigan Athletic had not contributed so terribly themselves to the result which may prove deeply significant in what, as things stand today, looks like a losing battle to extend their existence in the Premier League into a ninth year.
They have a whole library of songs devoted to the cult of survival. Let's hang on to what we've got was out there, to go with the favourite I'm a Believer and when the words 'nine minutes of added time' sounded across the dusk from the stadium announcer, you felt that there was a higher force willing a side built on such fine football principles to stay in the promised land. But even Roberto Martinez, the eternal optimist who spoke tonight about how “there are still many twists and turns,” could not claim that a night of defending like this merited anything better than what, from a Wigan perspective, is a horrible looking league table.
Injuries have shorn them of their three first choice central defenders - Antolin Alcaraz, Ivan Ramis and Maynor Figueroa - and it summed up their predicament that Ronnie Stam, the wing back, suffered a suspected broken leg within minutes of entering the field as a substitute. But a game in which Wigan twice led was still given away, leaving them three points adrift of Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland with the visit to Arsenal's Emirates Stadium and Aston Villa to play.
“The manner of the goals we conceded does make it more frustrating,” Martinez admitted. “The many injuries we have at the back showed. We played sloppy balls and made bad decisions. You can see the effort of the players, but sometimes we made it difficult for us to be ourselves.”
The night began with signs that some from Wigan were playing sin miedo 'without fear', as their manager likes to call it. Callum McManaman, the player Martinez has always viewed as the big prospect of the Academy he has built, dragged the ball back and forth around Michael Laudrup's left back Ben Davies with an exuberance that suggested that the only sun setting on this stadium was the one dropping down behind the stand in front of him. It was just a shame that his cross was not more measured.
But Wigan's attempts to put together a run matching last season's seven wins from nine has been riddled with anxiety and as Martinez stood in his lucky brown shoes on the end of his technical area, he saw more of the same. Roger Espinoza's topsy turvy night began with a nervous pass back to Paul Scharner which caught the Austrian out only three minutes in. Time stood still as Scharner slipped on the turf, allowing Wayne Routledge to hare off unhindered up the right flank towards goal.
Joel Robles reacted quickly, palming Routledge's shot around his left post impressively, but it also felt like another a very big moment for the future of this club when James McArthur's back pass, gathered up by Robles with the game just over 15 minutes in, handed Swansea a direct free kick from the penalty spot. The entire Wigan side were lined up as Jonathan de Guzman tapped the ball for Ashley Williams to fire into the stand. Another huge roar of collective relief.
Wigan saw a lot of the ball and were the better team but were not finding a cutting edge when the Honduran Espinoza, the latest product of the central American seam of talent which delivered Wilson Palacios and Hendry Thomas to Wigan in the days when Paul Jewell was first establishing Premier League Wigan, unravelled the most priceless left foot volley of his career. Espinoza, the Americanised 26-year-old signed from Sporting Kansas City in January, had generally looked more dangerous at the Swansea end of the ground than in the left back position he was deployed to serve in, when the Welshmen's keeper Michel Vorm punched out Ben Watson's deep cross straight back to him. The technique was as fine as the timing, as the volley squeezed in at Vorm's near post on the stroke of half time.
Swansea struck back brutally, quickly and in a way which revealed the defensive failings which Martinez would come to curse so deeply. Routledge, back to goal, peeled away from Emmerson Boyce and measured an exquisite through pass which allowed Angel Rangel to ease ahead of Espinoza - rather less convincing as a stand-in defender - and fire in off the post.
Wigan struck back again through the pace and fine touch of James McArthur - who accelerated past Pablo Hernandez to take on Gary Caldwell's through ball, control with his first touch and dispatch with his second. But Wigan conspired to leak another one - making it three goals in nine minutes of every conceivable emotion for the home crowd. This time it was the Israeli Itay Schecter's first goal for his club, deflected in miserably off Emmerson Boyce.
Wigan summoned every sinew to hit back. Caldwell's header from a corner was clawed over the bar by Vorm, who momentarily seemed to fumble a Shaun Maloney cross. But yet again the defence crumbled. The night-defining mix up between Shaun Maloney and James McArthur was tragi-comic, allowing Dwight Tinedalli to poke the ball home.
Wigan were given time to regroup when a bad clash of heads between Davies and his goalkeeper Vorm as they tried to deal with a Wigan set-piece, left the Dutchman prone on the pitch. Vorm was stretchered off, though is not seriously injured, Laudrup said. Robles saved well from Nathan Dyer after the defence was cut open at the death and then launched forward a right winger to deliver a cross a ball.
“We need to look forward to a unique achievement the FA Cup final,” Martinez reflected. Yes, reaching a Cup Final and being relegated in one season is quite extraordinary. The Premier League struggle is looking an increasingly hopeless case.
Man of the match Routledge.
Match rating 8/10.
Referee K Friend (Leicestershire).
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